Rolex Air King Review: A Design Departure or a Fresh Take on a Classic?

One of the most common criticisms about Rolex is that their watches tend to look the same. To some extent, there’s a truth to this sentiment and it applies to both Rolex’s historical timepieces and contemporary models. However, Rolex’s meticulous consistency is what made it one of the largest luxury brands in the world.

Therefore, many people are caught off-guard when they see something as unorthodox as the Rolex Air King.

Today, we’ll take a long hard look at the Rolex Air King. The Air King is widely considered to be the Swiss luxury brand’s entry-level pilot watch but is it worth the entry-level price tag?

Let’s take a look.

Rolex Air King Review: At a Glance

As mentioned, the Air King is the least expensive model in the Rolex line. For this review, we’ll focus on the Rolex Air-King ref. 116900 model. But first, let’s see the key specs and features.

Model:

Rolex Air King

Reference no.

116900

Model case:

Oyster, 40 mm, Oystersteel

Oyster architecture:

Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown

Material:

Oystersteel

Bezel:

Smooth

Winding crown:

Screw-down, Twinlock double waterproofness system

Crystal:

Scratch-resistant sapphire

Crown:

Screw-locked, two gaskets
Water-resistance: Waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet

Movement:

Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding, with a magnetic shield to protect the movement

Caliber:

3131, Manufacture Rolex

Precision:

-2/+2 sec/day, after casing

Functions:

Centre hour, minute and seconds hands. Stop-seconds for precise time setting

Oscillator:

Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring

Winding:

Bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor

Power reserve:

48 hours

Bracelet:

Oyster, flat three-piece links

Clasp:

Folding Oysterclasp with Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link

Dial:

Black, Highly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescence

First Impression

Rolex Air King Review Featured

The Rolex Air King is perhaps the most confusing Rolex I’ve ever owned.

It’s worth noting that the original design of the Air King was very simple and in some ways, a very purist Rolex. I mean it has no date aperture, it comes with a water-resistant case, chronometer, and a screw-down crown. It had the most essential Rolex elements without the distractions.

However in 2016, Rolex released an Air King version (reference 116900) which was a significant departure from the original design.

If you are familiar with the old Air King design, you’ll find the new design to be quite extroverted. The rather unorthodox design is mainly seen on the dial. The new Air King’s dial is uncharacteristically colorful and is somewhat busy when compared to other iconic Rolex models such as the Submariner and Datejust.

I must admit that the 116900’s overall look takes a bit of getting used to. The old Air King’s popularity was mainly attributed to its simplicity and robustness. I have to say that Air King still has those qualities with an extra touch of personality.

However, as with any drastic changes to time-tested Rolex designs, to say that the latest Air King is polarizing to timepiece collectors would be a severe understatement.

The Polarizing Black Dial

It’s hard not to agree that most of the confusion about the Air King lies with its satin black dial. The new Air King retains the black dial but with some strange design elements introduced.

First off, the dial features applied, Arabic numeral markers with the familiar Rolex Explorer layout. The Arabic 3, 6 and 9’clock markers are fitted in polished white gold, and the 12 o’clock marker is an inverted triangle which is also fashioned in white gold. The rest of the dial’s layout takes a strange turn as the rest of the hour markers go from ‘5’ to ’55’, only interrupted by the Explorer layout.

While this is a layout that divided many fans, I personally like this design as it reminds me of a cockpit indicator. Some people may not like the layout but it certainly looks like a pilot watch for the most part. With that said, legibility is excellent with its bold and unapologetic dial. The addition of the Chromalight lume makes readability a non-issue even in dark environments.

Another noteworthy departure is that the Rolex name is printed in green font and the familiar Crown logo is printed in yellow. Above the 6 o’clock sits the stylized Air King text with the Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified text below. I have to admit that I was taken aback by the logo designs but they certainly grew on me.

Like it or not, this enigma of a dial is what gave the Air King its distinct identity.

The Milgauss Case

If you think the shape of the Air King’s case is familiar, it’s probably because it reminds you of the Rolex Milgauss case. Well, the Rolex Air King 116900 uses the same Milgauss case which means that the watch is protected from magnetic fields.

Both the case and the bracelet is made from the signature 904L grade stainless steel and boasts a stunning satin finish. However, it’s worth noting that the Milgauss’ bracelet features a PCL (polished center link) bracelet while the Air King is all satin.

The Air King case has a thickness of about 13mm which is roughly the same thickness as the Omega Speedmaster. While it might be a bit too thick for some people, the Air-King never felt bulky or unwieldy. It’s safe to assume that the thickness is due to the anti-magnetic shielding.

As you might expect from a Rolex timepiece, the Oyster bracelet and folding Oyster clasp provide the much-needed ease of use. The bracelet is noiselessly smooth and operates reliably. I have no issue with comfort as well and it’s like wearing silk instead of steel. It’s a fairly hefty watch but Rolex did a good job with weight distribution. The signature Easylink adjustable extension links go a long way to ensure an excellent fit.

It never felt that the Air King is weighing me down.

The Air-King Movement

Rolex Air King Review 3131 Movement

This isn’t a Rolex Air King Review without talking about the movement. With that said, the Air-King is powered by the self-winding mechanical movement, the Caliber 3131. Again, this is the same exact movement used not just for the Rolex Milgauss but for the Rolex Explorer as well.

The movement operates at a frequency of 28.800 vph with a 48-hour power reserve. As mentioned, the movement is protected from electromagnetic fields. The inclusion of the blue paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring adds further magnetic protection and toughness to the watch. This pretty much ensures that the watch will be precise and reliable even when you’re on a flight.

Like with most Rolex models, the Air-King promises -2/+2 sec/day precision. The Caliber 3131 movement may not have the same fanfare as with the new Chronergy escapement, it’s a solid movement that offers good precision and some nice features.

Pricing

As I have mentioned earlier, the Rolex Air King is the brand’s less expensive model. It just edges out the updated 39mm Explorer in terms of affordability.

So is the Air King worth the entry-level asking price?

In my opinion, the Air King is as close as you can get to a proper Rolex sports watch. If you are looking for a darn good pilot watch with the signature Rolex polish, then this watch is more than worthy of its price tag. Would I go as far as recommending this for would-be first-time Rolex owners?

Well, that’s a bit of a tricky question.

While the old Air-King is considered a classic, the Air King 116900 looks nothing like the original design. For all extents and purposes, the Air-King is a handsome watch. However, it doesn’t really scream Rolex. I imagine that most people who are looking to own their first Rolex is aiming to buy into its heritage.

With its enigmatic design, the Air-King looks nothing like your classic Rolex. However, it does have the iconic Rolex polish and reliability.

In its current price point, the Air King is not worth the entry-level price if you’re looking to own a traditionally designed Rolex. On the other hand, those who are looking for a Rolex watch with plenty of personality, I highly recommend this watch – it’s practically a steal.

Should You Get the Rolex Air King?

We conclude this Rolex Air King review with our verdict.

To be quite honest, the Rolex Air-King Reference 116900 didn’t really make me excited at first. However, the more I look into it, the more endearing it gets. It’s a watch that’s all about risk-taking and needs to catch your attention. While we celebrate Rolex for the brand’s reliability and consistency, the Air King reminds us that it can still venture far from its comfort zone.

The Air King is also a fairly versatile piece that can cater to a wide range of needs. I have worn this watch from sportier activities to dressier events. It looks great, wears comfortably, and offers excellent reliability. Legibility is also on-point and remains true to the spirit of the best pilot watches.

The Air King is clearly targeted towards younger users who are turned off by the classicism of the Oyster or the omnipresence of the Submariner.

Many collectors have turned up their noses with the idiosyncrasies of the Air-King but I think its polarizing aspects are its greatest strength. This is a Rolex that dares to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Is the Air King too much of a departure from a classic? Or is it a fresh take on a classic? Regardless of what we think, you really can’t fault the Air King for being dull and boring.

Datejust Vs Day Date: A Tale of Two Top-Shelf Rolex Classics

Datejust Vs Day Date Featured

If you are an avid reader of the blog, you’ll know we all love our Rolexes here. The main problem with the Rolex brand is that they have so many stellar timepieces that choosing one can be a daunting task. Today, we have another Rolex head-to-head with the Rolex Datejust vs Day Date.

Many people are stuck between the Datejust and Day Date since the ownership experience are fairly similar. To compare, one is a very popular Rolex timepiece and widely considered a timeless classic while the other is a watch that’s pretty much the embodiment of prestige.

We get where you’re coming from if you say you’re stuck between these two luxury timepieces. Fortunately for you, we are here to help.

Rolex Datejust Vs Day Date: Specs Comparison

First, let’s check out the key specs of both Datejust and Day Date.

Model: Rolex Datejust 41 Rolex Day Date 40
Reference #: 126333 228238
Model case: Oyster, 41 mm, Oystersteel Oyster, 40 mm
Dial color: Champagne White
Oyster architecture: Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown
Material: Yellow Rolesor 18 ct yellow gold
Bezel: Fluted Fluted
Winding crown: Screw-down, Twinlock double waterproofness system Screw-down, Twinlock double waterproofness system
Crystal: Scratch-resistant sapphire, Cyclops lens over the date Scratch-resistant sapphire, Cyclops lens over the date
Water Resistance: 100 meters / 330 feet 100 meters / 330 feet
Movement: Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding
Caliber: 3235, Manufacture Rolex 3255, Manufacture Rolex
Functions: Centre hour, minute and seconds hands. Instantaneous date with rapid setting. Stop-seconds for precise time setting Centre hour, minute and seconds hands Instantaneous day and date in apertures, unrestricted rapid-setting. Stop-seconds for precise time setting
Oscillator: Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring. High-performance Paraflex shock absorbers Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring. High-performance Paraflex shock absorbers
Power reserve: 70 hours 70 hours
Bracelet: Jubilee, five-piece links President, semi-circular three-piece links
Clasp: Folding Oysterclasp with Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link Concealed folding Crownclasp

Rolex Day Date 40 Review

For this head-to-head review, we’ll be taking a look at the Rolex Day-Date 40 reference no. 228238. The Day Date 40 is also commonly referred to as the “Rolex President.” The series includes other variants like the Everose gold 228235, 18ct white gold 228239, and the smooth bezel 950 platinum 228206.

However, for this review, we’ll be focusing on the 18ct yellow gold reference 228238.

Design

The Rolex Day Date was designed to merge both the design elements of a prestige timepiece and a functional sports watch. Interestingly, the Day Date isn’t exactly a popular item for sports watch collectors but I have to say that it more than succeeds as a prestige status timepiece.

Rolex has definitely upped their dial game with the Day Date 40. The new Day Date sports an array of elaborate dials and sophisticated technology. We’ve managed to get our hands on the model with the white dial and it’s truly a thing of beauty.

The hour markers are fitted with 18 ct gold which prevents tarnishing. Instead of the traditional Roman numeral dial, the Day Date 40 features luminous block markers. I prefer Roman numeral dials but for some reason, I don’t mind the block markers here. Additionally, the hour and minutes hands are in matchstick style and are also luminous.

The laser-etching technique is on-point and the sunray finish provides the much-needed sophistication and delightful nostalgia.

As with the older Day Date models, you’ll find the day aperture at 12 o’clock and the date aperture at 3 o’clock. The date aperture features the signature Cyclops lens which I have always been a fan of. The dial is bold and very easy to read. All in all, the Day Date 40 dial is another showcase of Rolex’s extreme attention to detail.

Construction and Wearability

This is a prestige timepiece through and through, a fact that’s very well demonstrated by the Day Date 40’s case. The model we reviewed features a fluted bezel. Take note that only the gold versions come with fluted bezels. If I am not mistaken, the platinum model comes with a smooth bezel.

The watch features the iconic Oyster case with a monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown. This provides the watch with a respectable waterproof rating of 100 meters. The dial is protected with a scratch-resistant sapphire that offers superior scratch protection.

You can’t really talk about the Day Date without mentioning the “President” bracelet.

Launched in 1956, the President bracelet is a staple design element of the Day-Date. The bracelet is made from solid gold or platinum, and it’s characterized by three semi-circular links which do a great job of making the watch very comfortable. That’s right, the Day-Date 40 looks and feels like a true luxury watch.

The bracelet is now fitted with ceramic inserts inside the links which adds durability and suppleness. An interesting detail is the concealed attachment under the bezel which adds up to a seamless, flowing design. The concealed folding Crownclasp reveals the hinged Rolex crown – a very nice touch.

Timekeeping

Perhaps the biggest update to the Day Date line is the new in-house movement: the Calibre 3255.

Datejust Vs Day Date Caliber 3255

The 3255 Caliber is not something that I would call a pretty movement and that is perfectly fine. The movement doesn’t have knock-your-socks-off finishing effects (hidden by a screw-down caseback) but it’s built to be a high-performance timekeeping machine. The more I look into it, the more I think that it’s a triumph of industrial design.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad-looking movement at all. In fact, it sports a distinguished lean-and-mean look that I personally enjoy.

As you might have guessed, the 3255 Caliber is COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute) certified. The -2 / +2 seconds per day precision is definitely here. The addition of the Parachrom Blue balance spring adds more durability to the movement.

Finally, the end result is a very efficient self-winding movement that’s more than capable of handling external forces. With a three-day power reserve, you have a very reliable timekeeping tool in your wrist.

Rolex Datejust 41 Review

For the other half of our Rolex Datejust Vs Day Date head-to-head, we are going in-depth with the super popular Rolex Datejust 41.

Design

Without a doubt, the Datejust is a long-standing classic within the Rolex stable. The Datejust has seen many updates over the years but its core design elements remain true to the original. Even with the release of the Datejust II, I found myself coming back to the original Datejust.

This is especially true when the Datejust 41 was released.

Undoubtedly, the Datejust 41 has all the makings of an iconic Rolex timepiece. You have the fluted bezel, the Cyclops lens, and the Oyster bracelet. We’ve got our hands on the reference 126333 model and I have to be honest that I am not the biggest fan of the champagne dial.

It’s a little too old-school for my taste.

If you want a more timeless design, the Datejust 41 reference 126300 is a solid option. In addition, the great thing about the Datejust 41 collection is the wide variety of dials to choose from including champagne, black, dark rhodium, slate, silver, blue, and white.

The hands and hour markers are treated with Rolex’s Chromalight display that ensures excellent visibility during low lighting conditions. Of course, there’s the Cyclops lens that magnifies the date aperture. It’s not an essential feature for most people but it’s sure a welcome one.

Construction and Wearability

The signature Oystersteel bracelet that comes with the Datejust 41 is always a treat. Additonally, there are also models that come with the five-piece link metal Jubilee bracelet.

Like the Day Date 40, the Datejust 41 also features a concealed attachment system found underneath the bezel. Again, this gives the watch with a seamless look. In addition, the folding Oysterclasp gets the job done for closing and opening the bracelet.

Fortunately, adjusting the watch is a cinch using the patented Easylink rapid extension system which allows you to adjust the bracelet by up to 5mm increments. This is such a welcome feature during hotter temperatures and you need to roll up your sleeves.

Durability-wise, the watch is made from Rolesor material which combines the 18 ct white gold with Oystersteel. On top of that, the dial is protected with scratch-resistant sapphire. To sum up, you can expect legendary Rolex durability and reliability with the Datejust 41.

Timekeeping

Datejust Vs Day Date Caliber 3235

The Datejust 41 collection runs on the in-house movement, the Caliber 3235.

The movement boasts the Chronergy escapement for better efficiency. With a power reserve of 70 hours, I have to say that it’s a powerhouse of a movement. Overall, the 3235 movement is a fine caliber with distinct bridges and gold-plated covers.

Unfortunately, it remains invisible to would-be admirers.

As with all Rolex timepieces, the 3235 movement is COSC certified with -2/+2 sec/day precision and done after casing. The blue Parachrom hairspring breathes inside the caliber and is made from niobium-zirconium-oxygen alloy. In addition, this spring is responsible for providing incredible resilience to the movement and protects the watch from temperature fluctuations to shocks.

Rolex Datejust Vs Day Date: The Verdict

Datejust Vs Day Date Featured

This concludes our Day Date vs Datejust comparison. So what’s my verdict?

As you can see, the Datejust 41 and Day Date 40 are fairly similar in terms of specs and features. Ownership experience is about the same as well. However, there are some distinct differences between the two especially when it comes to the design.

Alternatively, you could just read the dial and see Datejust or Day-Date.

For starters, the Day-Date 40 is a legacy timepiece that’s unlike any other. The collection represents the success and accomplishment of Rolex for over six decades. If you are looking to splurge for a prestige watch, the Day-Date 40 is made for you. After all, it’s a watch that was worn by presidents.

On the other hand, the Datejust is the second most popular Rolex model, next to the trusty Rolex Submariner. First, the wide variety of designs and models offer better accessibility and flexibility. As far as accessibility goes, the asking price is a lot less when compared to the Day-Date. In conclusion, if you’re looking for the more affordable option or looking to own your very first Rolex, the Datejust 41 is a no-brainer choice.